On Sunday, Azerbaijan announced the establishment of a checkpoint at the beginning of the Lachin corridor, the sole land route connecting Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh, a move that was followed by reports of border gunfire by both Azeri and Armenian forces.
Nagorno-Karabakh, often known as Artsakh by Armenians, is a hilly region in the South Caucasus.
After the fall of the Russian Empire in 1917, it was claimed by both Azerbaijan and Armenia, and it has remained a source of contention ever since.
The territory is internationally recognised as part of oil-rich Azerbaijan, but its inhabitants are mostly ethnic Armenians with their own government that has close ties to the government in neighbouring Armenia but is not officially recognised by it or other U.N. member states.
Armenian Christians claim a lengthy history of supremacy in the region that dates back several centuries before Christ.
Azerbaijan, whose people are primarily Muslim, also connects its historical identity to its territory. It accuses Armenians of forcibly displacing Azeris who resided nearby in the 1990s. It wants full control of the enclave and has suggested that ethnic Armenians obtain Azeri passports or leave.
The enclave has been ruled by Persians, Turks, Russians, Ottomans, and Soviets over the ages.
Following the 1917 Russian revolution, Armenia and Azerbaijan fought over the region. When the Bolsheviks took over Azerbaijan, Armenia consented to submit to Bolshevik rule, ushering in the Sovietization of the Caucasus as a whole.
Karabakh remained a part of the Azeri Soviet Republic but with autonomy, with its borders altered to incorporate as many Armenians as possible. The “Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast” was its name.
As the Soviet Union disintegrated, the First Karabakh War (1988-1994) erupted between Armenians and their Azeri neighbours. Approximately 30,000 people were killed, and over a million people were displaced.
Azerbaijan lost territory, with Armenians retaining control of much of Karabakh, as well as additional territory around Karabakh’s boundaries. Azerbaijan promised to retake control of the land.
After decades of skirmishing, Azerbaijan launched the Second Karabakh War in 2020, quickly pushing past Armenian lines. Azerbaijan secured a spectacular success in the 44-day battle, reclaiming areas of Karabakh.
Military analysts identified the use of drones purchased from Turkey and Israel as one of the main reasons for Azerbaijan’s win. Thousands of people were slain.
Russia, an Armenian treaty partner with good relations with Azerbaijan, intervened to mediate a cease-fire.
Azerbaijan received all of the lands surrounding Karabakh as part of the agreement. This left ethnic Armenians in Karabakh with substantially less land. Armenia viewed the war’s end as a failure, and unrest erupted in Yerevan.
The agreement called for Russian peacekeepers to be deployed to Karabakh to secure the single road connecting the enclave to Armenia, known as the Lachin corridor, as well as the development of a new route along the corridor.
Azerbaijan has promised to ensure the safety of traffic in both directions along the corridor.
Fighting resumed after the ceasefire, and in December 2022, Azeri citizens posing as environmental activists initiated a blockade of the Lachin passage, effectively shutting Karabakh to all but Russian forces and Red Cross convoys.
Azerbaijan denied completely blocking the road, claiming that some convoys and humanitarian aid were permitted through.